Over at PopSci, Jeremy Deaton has been tracking the growth of clean energy and tracking it against some of the other major technological revolutions of the past century. It's slow long snout of a beginning pretty closely mirrors what was seen with fax machines and personal computers in the past 50 years, and at some point each of those technologies hit a point where their growth turbo charged. One reason for that change, Deaton points out, is that large companies decided, en masse, to jump in with both feet.
The fax machine, Deaton writes, was around long before becoming ubiquitous in the Eighties. It was used by newspaper editors to send text and information in a way similar to the way newspapers had pioneered the use of the telegraph and wireless a half-century before. It was when corporations in the Eighties decided to all simultaneously outfit their offices with fax machines that the technology took off. This was a network effect ... essentially everyone else was started to get them, and you couldn't send or receive a fax without one ... so you needed to have one too in order to stay relevant.
With the PC, Deaton shows that it was a matter of scale and manufacturing price that led to the personal computer explosion. Computers existed since World War II, or before if you consider behemoth punch-card monsters of the early century. They took up an entire room, sucked enough energy from the grid to fuel an entire building, and cost millions of dollars. Then, in addition to the continual improvement in semiconductors and transistor technology, IBM figured out how to make the manufacturing cost-affordable. Cranking out enough PCs meant you could do it cheap enough, and once again, large companies with money to spare on investments that could take years to pay off jumped in with their wallets open.
Deaton sees the same jump inevitable in the near future for both clean energy (and he means solar panels) and electric cars. And he has a pile of charts to back it up.
Read Jeremy Deaton's full story over at Popular Science.